Author: Scott Nystrom • Date: June 28, 2016 • Appears in:
Feed Your Food!
Soil is a living breathing thing. It’s not just sitting there being dirty, it’s actually teeming with life. One teaspoon of soil contains up to fifty thousand different species, and more organisms than human beings on this planet. Colonies of bacteria, fungi and other microbes form a living web in the soil that nourish plants and in turn nourish us as we eat the plants that call the soil home.
The world within
The human microbiome – a diverse ecosystem inside each of us with bacterial populations that outnumber our human cells 10 to 1 - is mirrored in the life of the soil. Bacteria and fungi in dirt function as the digestive and immune systems of plants, helping cycle water and nutrients, fixing nitrogen from the air into the plant’s roots, and fending off attacks from invading species. Plants communicate with each other through bacteria in the roots called mycorrhizae, which alert helper plants to emit biochemicals and react to potential threats or enhance the capabilities of its neighbors.
Antibiotics and pesticides
With the widespread abuse of antibiotics and ubiquity of processed food, the collective human microbiome has been ravaged, and we see a rise in illness related to gut bacteria imbalance: indigestion, allergies, autoimmunity, instigating obesity, diabetes, and cancer. At the same time, commercial pesticides and fungicides are threatening to destroy the digestive system and immunity in the soil, leaving plants malnourished. We need to bring life back to the soil if we want our food chain to thrive.
Farmers understand that the quality of their crop is relative to the quality of their soil. Many strive to improve their soil ecology in the name of better tasting and healthier food. Composting, mulching, low-till methods, and biodynamic inoculations are becoming widespread on smaller scale operations, and larger farms are taking notice. If you want to raise life, your need to cultivate the microbes.
Feed your soil’s gut
You are what you eat eats. The animals and plants we eat are products of their diet. If the soil is dead where the grain grows, the cow who eats that grain will be lacking in nutrients, and we will be too if we eat that cow.
What are our carrots and kale eating anyways? 18 different trace nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, and sulfur while industrial fertilizers typically dump only 3 (often synthetic) nutrients back into the soil: Nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. This leads to a disproportionate depletion of all the other trace minerals with each passing crop, and our diets suffer as we eat food from slowly decaying soil. We need to feed the soil to feed ourselves.
Keepin’ the funk alive!
Fermentation occurs in our guts, in our food, and in our soil. Food is rotting in a very controlled way as we digest our dinners, and many of the foods we eat are rich in other fermented microbes that help maintain balance in our daily cycles. Just as our bellies and brains can benefit from cultured kraut and Kombucha, the soil loves to eat its food medicine.
A well-fed compost will nourish your garden’s probiotic footprint and fill your belly vicariously as it feeds your seeds. Farmers who raise life twice, and take care not to overtill or overwater, preserve the web of life on their farms and in their soil, growing so much more than a simple carrot. Food grown with care and compost is infused with the essence of all the hands that raised it, no matter how microscopic.